Methalox Rockets: First Attempts, Future Plans

  • #1


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It appears that Zhuque-2, built by the Chinese firm Landscape, failed to reach orbit yesterday.
That was the first attempt to reach orbit using methane/oxygen boosters.

However, more methalox orbital attempts are coming soon:
* Relativity, a Long Beach, CA company that uses 3D rocket printing, is preparing for a January Terran 1 launch .
* ULA (United Launch Alliance), is preparing its Vulcan rocket for an early 2023 orbit attempt - according to a year-old report, perhaps in the first quarter.
* And, SpaceX is preparing its Starship for launch. NET this month, but given their progress at the Texas site, more likely 2023Q1.

Unlike some other fuels, methalox does not "coke" the engines - so it is a good choice for reusable engines. Methalox also has advantages in engine performance, handling, and economy.

Curiously, Arianespace is sticking LH2/LOx for the core booster on their Ariane 6.

Answers and Replies

  • #2
The latest on the Methalox race to orbit:

The website for Landscape Rocket (China) has not yet posted their December launch results - or any news more recent than that.

Relativity Space isn't posting any recent new on their website either. But this "Interesting Engineering" article reports that the Terran is at the launchpad undergoing ground test and is expected to launch this month.

On January 25, ULA Vulcan arrived at its launch pad for stacking. As of Feb 6, it stands fully assembled. No recent word on when the launch is expected.

On February 9, Spacex completed a static fire test of Starship. 31 of the 33 Raptor-2 engines completed the test.
  • #4
Metholox is definitely up there in terms of practical propellant mixes moving forward. Better specific impulse than kerosene, and the aforementioned lack of coking make it a great choice for launchers, but the fact it's a soft cryogen, allowing it to be stored on orbit with proper shading and minimal refrigeration, can be made with ISRU on Mars (admittedly with some effort), and had good density compared to LH2, makes it a good choice for next-gen deep space propulsion, too.
Not sure if anyone has looked at using it in nuclear thermal rockets yet. Yeah, you're gonna take a huge hit on the ISP because of the higher mass, but you can balance that out by fitting more propellant mass in the same volume of tank, you don't have to refrigerate it nearly as much, and if my understanding is correct, it won't eat the moderator of the NTR core or migrate out of the tank via diffusion through the tank structure.
  • #5
March 8 for Terran 1
Likely the next attempt, unless it gets delayed too much or LandSpace suddenly has their next rocket ready.
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  • #8
"Article", or am I missing something? I only see the headline and an image.
Written by Brandon Richardson, not to be confused with Richard Branson.
  • #9
Terran-1 saw some delays due to weather, a boat entering the restricted area, and a couple of issues with the rocket. One attempt got all the way to engine ignition but aborted just before liftoff. Now planned for March 16. Meanwhile another Zhuque-2 is on the pad, preparing for a second attempt to reach orbit. The race could be decided by days.
  • #11
Relativity Space had to delay the launch first for high winds, then for a boat crossing through the range.
It's launching from Cape Canaveral and it's launch window was 10pm to 1am. It finally launched at 11:25pm.

Nice vivid blue flame.

Clearly, they have attempted to ignite the second stage several times to no effect.

Oh well.
  • #12
Can happen, most maiden flights fail. Getting through the whole first stage flight is impressive already. They'll figure out what happened and print another one.
  • #13
After the second stage got up there, they tried to ignite the methane/oxygen mixture. You could see the ignition sparks, but no flame. Like someone trying to get a cigarette lighter to light. It's unclear whether there was actually a methane oxygen mixture to ignite.
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  • #14
Zhuque-2 successfully ignited a methalox upper stage in space, and it's possible Relativity Space (and maybe others) tested in a vacuum chamber.
  • #15
Zhuque-2 successfully ignited a methalox upper stage in space, and it's possible Relativity Space (and maybe others) tested in a vacuum chamber.
I corrected my post. You are right - apparently the Zhuque-2 second stage did ignite - but the 2nd stage vernier engines failed.
  • #16
Terran 1 is out of the race. Relativity Space has announced that they won't fly it again, focusing on the larger Terran R instead (no earlier than 2026).

The Vulcan test article exploded as discussed in the general spaceflight thread, very likely delaying Vulcan from early May to something later, so the next attempt should be Starship now unless Zhuque-2 flies again soon.
  • #17
  • #18

* Zhuque-2: 0/1, next flight soon?
* Vulcan Centaur: Not flown yet, maiden flight delayed by the test article anomaly. Maybe July or so.
* Starship: 0/1, likely flying again at some point later this year
* Terran-1: 0/1, project stopped

The first flight of Zhuque-2 made it far into the second stage flight, so they have a good chance to reach orbit on the next attempt.

Vulcan Centaur has a good chance to reach orbit on the first attempt. Losing the rocket would be a big setback for ULA with its infrequent launches (0 this year so far), they can't afford to launch a prototype and see what fails.

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